How to Influence Without Offending

You've been jockeying for it for a long time. You've completed all of the leadership training your company has to offer, incorporated every nugget of feedback you've ever received from performance reviews, and carefully observed other leaders in the company—all in an effort to make sure your transition goes as smoothly as possible. But 30 days into the move, you've completely alienated coworkers causing them to shut down, talk venomously about you behind your back, or consider hiring a hit man. What happened?

New leaders are almost always chomping at the bit to get off to a fast start—to prove to themselves and everyone around them that they have what it takes to lead. And who can blame them? But unfortunately, that frenetic pace isn't always a good fit for teams that have been working at a different speed. To them, you will likely appear as a snake oil salesman who just finished off a six pack of "5 hour energy" drinks. What you see as trying to make an impact, your coworkers see as your trying to "one up" them. Once you're perceived as a "one upper," it doesn't take long for the masses to turn against you. And that's never a good thing. The first few weeks and months as a new leader are a very delicate time for you and your team. Pace yourself based on how much you think your team can handle. I'll avoid using the "Rome wasn't built in a day" proverb—but you get the drift.

During the first few weeks, a fair amount of pushback should be expected. Don't take it personally. Some of it is rooted in basic posturing—putting a stake in the ground over something completely off of the wall just to lay claim and see how you react. Other times, it's a reaction to your being overly critical of something he or she feels very passionately about. People have strong emotional ties to things and you usually won't know what those things are until you've either completely blown them up or smashed someone's toes. Early on, pay careful attention to who owns (or owned) what. As you recommend possible changes, always assume they could feel very strongly about the things they've worked on and tailor your message and approach accordingly. Be sure to highlight the positives (any positives) before suggesting sweeping changes.

Your employees want to be heard—so hear them. We all know how frustrating it can be when we make what we think is a great suggestion to management only to have them fluff it off without so much as an afterthought. Don't make the same mistake. Provide a lot of opportunities for your team to share their ideas, to go away and think about your recommendations before reacting, and to incorporate their feedback.

There's a fine line between influencing and offending. Unfortunately, in their quest to hit the ground running, it's a line many new leaders miss by a long shot. During your first few weeks as a freshly minted leader, pay special attention to how you present your ideas for change. Watch for verbal and nonverbal cues to get a sense of when you might be stepping on (or completely smashing) someone's toes. And, most importantly, don't get so caught up in your own leadership agenda that you forget to include feedback from your team. Or else you might not be a leader for long.

Find Shawn Graham at CourtingYourCareer, on Twitter @ShawnGraham or via email at shawn(at)courtingyourcareer.com.

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